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Jeffrey Weeks

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Jeffrey Weeks OBE (born 1945, in Rhondda, Wales) is a gay activist, historian and sociologist, specializing in work on sexuality. At time of writing, he is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at London South Bank University, regarded as "one of the leading British sociologists and historians within the field of sexuality",[1] and "the most significant British intellectual working on sexuality to emerge from the radical sexual movements of the 1970s".[2] He is among the early academics in Britain that emerged from the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which he joined in 1970, and a founding member of the journal Gay Left which famously examined Pedophilia and platformed dissident voices such as PIE Chairman Tom O'Carroll. Weeks has written on intergenerational sexuality in various publications, including his book Sexuality and its Discontents (1985).

He has been on the editorial board of several journals, including the Journal of Homosexuality.

He was the Executive Dean of Arts and Human Sciences at London South Bank University (2003–2008), and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honors for services to social science.

Relevant Publications

  • Jeffrey Weeks, Preface to the English translation of Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire (1972, English translation 1978), speculated to be the first work of Queer Theory.[3]
  • The Gay Left Collective. Happy Families? Paedophilia Examined. Gay Left: A Gay Socialist Journal, Issue 7 (Winter 1978/79), pp. 2-6.[4] [O'Carroll's article titled Chemical Castration was published in this issue. Responses to the Collective's discussion on pedophilia were published in issue 8, with separate contributions by Jamie Gough and Tom O'Carroll.[5] Issue 7 platformed Jean Le Bitoux, a French gay activist who went on to found the MAP friendly gay magazine Gai pied / Gai pied hebdo[6], while issue 8 reviewed Parker Rossman's Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys (1976, available in our chronological archive).
  • Weeks, (1981). Sexuality and Social Policy. Critical Social Policy, #2, 1, pages 111-118.[7] [Reviews John Hart, Social Work and Sexual Conduct (1979), O'Carroll, Paedophilia: The Radical Case (1980, available in our chronological archive), and Brian Taylor (ed.), Perspectives on Paedophilia (1981)].

O’Carroll’s book is [...] an impassioned polemic, carefully researched and well written, but clearly and openly a piece of political argument, though nonetheless important and significant for that. Its author has, of course, already attained a public notoriety, and is currently serving a prison sentence as a victim of the catch-all crime of 'conspiracy to corrupt public morals' [...] The book is a testimony to his courage and honesty, but also, perhaps, to a certain political insouciance which has had unfortunate results. [...]'

At random one might cite the problems with age of consent legislation, where apprehension of the legal snares can lead the social worker to be preoccupied with chronological rather than emotional age. On the question of adult-child sexual relations, in particular, personal (and, again, legal) preoccupations can obscure the fact that such relations are often initiated by the child.[...]'

'[O'Carroll] hints at the need to break the connections between sexuality and power while simultaneously devaluing the importance culturally assigned to 'the sexual'. It is on this point that O'Carroll’s work can be said to contribute to the debate as to what should constitute a radical social policy towards sexuality. The absolutist, liberal and libertarian approaches have all stressed the social importance of sexuality; its sacredness, or its status as the last refuge of individual freedom, or its centrality to human liberation. Increasingly, socialists are coming to recognize that the initial questions must be: why do we give sexuality such a crucial significance; what are the social factors that have shaped this central, organizing role of sexuality; and should this historically determined role continue to guide our actions[? ...] Sexual antagonisms cannot be finally eliminated, but they need not have the central significance we tend to assign to them today. What is needed is a framework of analysis and a process of empathetic decision-making which will eliminate arbitrary procedures and maximize the possibilities of a non-exploitative freedom of choice. Whatever their (necessary) limitations, these three books do provide invaluable material for the essential, basic, discussions we need on this issue.

  • Weeks, 'Paedophilias?'; Gay News [London], Number 263; 29 April, 1983.[8] [Reviews The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society, by Glenn D. Wilson and David N. Cox (available in our chronological archive).
  • Weeks, Sexuality and its Discontents: Meanings, Myths & Modern Sexualities (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985):

Intergenerational sex and consent

If public sex constitutes one area of moral anxiety, another, greater, one, exists around intergenerational sex. Since at least the eighteenth century children's sexuality has been conventionally defined as a taboo area, as childhood began to be more sharply demarcated as an age of innocence and purity to be guarded at all costs from adult corruption. Masturbation in particular became a major topic of moral anxiety [...] The real curiosity is that while the actuality is of largely adult male exploitation of young girls, often in and around the home, male homosexuals have frequently been seen as the chief corrupters, to the extent that in some rhetoric 'homosexual' and 'child molesters' are coequal terms. [...]'

It is difficult to confront the issue rationally because of the series of myths that shroud the topic. But all the available evidence suggests that the stereotypes of intergenerational sex obscure a complex reality. The adult is usually seen as 'a dirty old man', typically 'a stranger' [...], as 'sick' or an 'inhuman monster'. Little of this seems to be true, at least of those we might describe as the political paedophile. He is scarcely an 'old man' (the membership of the English Paedophile Information Exchange, PIE, [...] clustered between 35 and 40); he is more likely to be a professional person than the average member of the population (only 14 per cent of PIE members were blue collar workers); he is more often than not a friend or relation of the child; and to outward appearances is not a ‘special type of person’ but an apparently healthy and ordinary member of the community. His chief distinguishing characteristic is an intense, but often highly affectionate and even excessively sentimental, regard for young people. [...]'

When the official age of consent in France is 15 for boys and girls in heterosexual and homosexual relations (compared to 16 for girls in Britain, and 21 for male homosexuals), and when in the 1890s Krafft-Ebing fixed on 14 for the dividing line between sexually mature and immature individuals, the fear that NAMBLA is attempting a corruption of young people seems excessive. [...] Sandfort found that in his sample the boys overwhelmingly experienced their sexual activities as positive. The most common evaluative terms used were 'nice', 'happy', 'free', 'safe', 'satisfied', and even 'proud' and 'strong'; and only minimally were negative terms such as 'angry', 'sad', 'lonely' used. Even when these negative terms were used, it was largely because of the secrecy often necessary and the knowledge of hostile norms and reactions, not because of the sexual contact itself. [...]'

If a progressive sexual politics is fundamentally concerned with sexual self-determination, then it becomes impossible to ignore the evolving self-awareness of the child. That means discouraging the unwelcome imposition of adult meanings and needs on the child [...] On the other hand, it does mean providing young people with full access to the means of sexual knowledge and protection as it becomes appropriate. There is no magic age for this 'appropriateness'. Each young person will have their own rhythms, needs and time scale. But the starting point can only be the belief that sex in itself is not an evil or dirty experience. It is not sex that is dangerous but the social relations which shape it.

  • Weeks, Sexuality, 3rd edition (London & New York: Routledge, 2010; first edition 1986):

The limits of consent: paedophilia

The power relations that sex can involve are most dramatically illustrated by the question of sex between the generations, or paedophilia. Few topics arouse such fear and anxiety in contemporary societies. The ‘paedophile’ has become a symbol of predatory evil, a synonym indeed not only for child abuser but also in many cases for child abductor and even murderer. [...] Yet this has not always been the case. [...] In the late nineteenth century paedophilia was lauded by some for its pedagogic possibilities – the so-called Greek Love justification: in the passage from childhood dependence to adult responsibility, guidance, sexual and moral, of a caring man can be invaluable, it was argued. It was further legitimated in the twentieth century by the supposed facts of childhood sexuality: sexology itself has revealed the wide extent of childhood sexual potentiality including the existence of infantile masturbation. If something is so natural, and omnipresent, should it be as rigidly controlled as childhood sexuality is today? And again, if it is natural, then surely it cannot be harmful even if it takes place with adults. [...] Despite, or perhaps because of, the emotiveness of the issue, it is important to be as rational and dispassionate as possible in looking at what is involved. Age is an ambiguous marker.

  • Weeks, The World We Have Won: The Remaking of Erotic and Intimate Life (London & New York: Routledge, 2007):

The age of consent may be an ambiguous barrier for young people themselves but it is a fraught one for many adults, usually men. The age of consent itself is constructed in terms of protection of young girls, and it assumes male agency. [...] Behaviours which were once regarded as natural and even healthy (childhood nudity, for example) have become fraught with menace, as parents and carers have discovered when their holiday photographs of naked children playing on the beach have been processed, and police summoned.

Footnotes

  1. Jeffrey Weeks - UCL Campaign
  2. Jeffrey Weeks and the History of Sexuality - Oxford Academic
  3. Homosexual Desire
  4. The Gay Left Collective. Happy Families? Paedophilia Examined. Gay Left: A Gay Socialist Journal, Issue 7 (Winter 1978/79)
  5. O’Carroll, Paedophilia: A Response, in Gay Left: A Gay Socialist Journal, Issue 8 (Summer 1979), pp. 13-17. Jamie Gough, Childhood Sexuality & Paedophilia, is the contribution following O'Carroll's.
  6. Gai Pied Wiki
  7. Weeks, (1981). Sexuality and Social Policy. Critical Social Policy, #2, 1, pages 111-118 (Annas Archive link).
  8. 'Paedophilias?'; Gay News [London], Number 263; 29 April, 1983. (Brongersma Info Link)